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“A Drifting, Angry America”: America Has Gone Mad And There’s No Place To Hide

“What sort of people are we, we Americans? … Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.” — Historian Arthur Schlesinger

As these words are written, I am on a cruise ship pulling into the harbor of the Greek island of Crete. All around me, the morning sparkles. The water is placid, the sky is clear and pale blue, our ship is embraced by gently sloping hills dotted with houses and shops.

And I just turned on the television.

And I just heard about Dallas.

I have made it a point to keep the news at something of a distance these last two weeks of travel, filling my days instead with shell craters on a beach in Normandy, a shopping square in Barcelona, the ghostly remains of Pompeii. So while I know that two African-American men were killed by police under dubious circumstances in Louisiana and Minnesota a couple days ago, I haven’t seen the videos, haven’t checked too deeply into the circumstances.

I’m off the clock now. I wanted to keep the horror at arm’s length.

But distance is an illusion, isn’t it? That’s what I just learned when I made the mistake of turning on the television.

Indeed, sitting here in this picturesque place on this peaceful morning far away, it feels as if I can see the madness of my country even more clearly than usual.

Two more black men shot down for no good reason in a country that still insists — with righteous indignation, yet — upon equating black men with danger.

That’s madness.

Last night, I called my sons and grandson to tell them I love them, explain to them yet again that they terrorize people simply by being and plead with them to be careful. I am required to fear what might happen to my children when they encounter those who are supposed to serve and protect them.

That’s madness.

Eleven police officers shot by sniper fire, five fatally, while guarding a peaceful demonstration against police brutality.

That’s madness.

The usual loud voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.

That is madness.

And then, there was this coda: A black man, a “person of interest” turns himself in to police after carrying an AR-15 rifle through the protest in downtown Dallas.

An AR-15.

Through downtown Dallas.

As police are dealing with an active shooter.

Apparently, the guy was not guilty of a crime, but he is certainly guilty of the worst judgment imaginable — and lucky to be alive. But then, in carrying that war weapon on a city street, he was only exercising his legal right under Texas law. The NRA calls that freedom.

But make no mistake: It, too, is madness.

America has gone mad before.

The quote at the top is from one such period, 1968. Hundreds of urban riots had wracked the country, the war in Vietnam was uselessly grinding up lives, recent years had seen the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Now, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had just been murdered within two months of one another.

And many people were wondering, as Arthur Schlesinger was, about America and its character, about what kind of country — and people — we were. Said New York Mayor John Lindsay, “This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.”

His words, like Schlesinger’s, feel freshly relevant to this era, almost 50 years down the line.

There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops.

Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.

On the night Martin Luther King died, two months almost to the day before he himself would be shot down in a hotel kitchen, Bobby Kennedy faced a grief-stricken, largely African-American crowd in Indianapolis and with extemporaneous eloquence, prescribed a cure for the sickness he saw.

“My favorite poet,” he told them, “was Aeschylus. And he once wrote, ‘And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Those words feel hopelessly idealistic, impossibly innocent and yet, wise, grace-filled and … right for the raw pain of this moment I commend them to all our wounded spirits on this shining morning from a peaceful place that, as it turns out, is not nearly far enough away.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 10, 2016

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Americans, Black Men, Gun Violence, Police Shootings | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“2015: The Year Of The Crybaby”: Yo, America, Quit Lying To Yourselves

With a presidential election year coming, it’s tempting to call 2015 the Year of the Crybaby. Everybody’s a victim. Judging by TV and social media, roughly half the nation believes it’s being oppressed by the other half. Everybody’s throwing themselves a pity party.

There’s an awful lot of self-dramatization going on.

Everywhere you look, somebody’s getting fitted for a hairshirt.

I was first moved to this thought by an extraordinary “Voices” letter to my local newspaper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A fellow in Siloam Springs was offended by columnist John Brummett’s criticism of “extreme evangelical professed Christians in Iowa.”

Brummett thinks the Iowa GOP primary gives undue attention to people who think “that God forgives everything but liberalism.” This infuriated the reader, who proclaimed his constitutionally-guaranteed right to oppose “abortion, divorce, gay marriage, etc.” regardless of Supreme Court rulings. Should he lose it “these United States will cease being America.”

Sorry, friend, the First Amendment definitely guarantees you the right to obsess about other people’s intimate lives. But not to regulate them. Here in America, you can interpret God’s will any way you like. You just can’t make anybody obey.

That doesn’t make you a victim. It makes you a crybaby.

Ditto Donald Trump’s whining about “political correctness” while directing coarse insults toward his rivals. A woman using the bathroom is “disgusting,” but poor Donald’s the victim.

For most Republicans, it’s an imaginary threat. “In the telling of people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly,” notes Paul Waldman, “conservatives live their lives in fear of the vicious mobs of liberals wielding political correctness like a nail-studded club.”

Poor little things.

Also on the subject of faking, check out Paul Farhi’s Washington Post article “Six Ways Donald Trump’s wrestling career previewed his campaign,” particularly the embedded video showing the pompadoured billionaire in action.

If that doesn’t open your eyes, they must be sewn shut.

Elsewhere, upwards of half the people in America tell pollsters they’re afraid they’ll be killed by terrorists. This time last year it was Ebola.

Yo, America, quit lying to yourselves.

Alternatively, you could try emulating Grandpa, who went off to fight World War II with no good expectation he’d be coming back. And you’re scared witless by a ragtag band of religious fanatics in pickup trucks?

No you’re not. You’re just titillated by the melodrama. Which is why CNN and the rest keep feeding it to you.

Of course where I live, cows are a bigger threat than terrorists.

No joke. A friend almost got himself killed recently after thoughtlessly entering a stall with a newborn calf and its normally placid mama. He escaped with a broken and dislocated shoulder.

Storms blow trees across fences, black Angus cattle wander into dark highways, and bad things happen. Just not on CNN.

Of course the cultural and political left has its own share of melodramatists, whiners and scolds, many on college campuses. Rather like the fellow in Siloam Springs, student “activists” see themselves as morally incorruptible, and their opinions as graven in stone.

Have you seen anything about the great Oberlin College food fight? Students on the Ohio campus decided their cafeteria served “racist” food. Because the sushi was no good, protesters called it “culturally appropriative,” an insult to Japanese-Americans. Things got very heated. If Oberlin kids got their way, you’d have to hire a Neapolitan chef to order a pizza.

All we ever worried about was saltpeter in the mashed potatoes.

An insult to my Irish ancestors, come to think of it, for whom a boiled potato and a six pack constituted a seven course meal.

But there I go, making light of something grave. Normally, I take my cues from the critical race theorists at Salon.com, where they celebrated Christmas with an article entitled “The thought of a white man in my chimney does not delight me”: Let’s stop lying to our kids about Santa.

And no, I couldn’t possibly make that up. Along with meditations upon the orgasm, tirades against white folks are pretty much the formerly-serious website’s entire stock-in-trade.

But the real holiday bell-ringer was a Christmas Eve essay in the New York Times entitled “Dear White America” by Emory University philosopher George Yancy. The professor offers his own struggles to transcend sexism as a model for white men in their efforts to comprehend black lives.

“As a sexist, I have failed women,” he confesses. “…I have failed to engage critically and extensively their pain and suffering in my writing. I have failed to transcend the rigidity of gender roles in my own life.”

Yeah, well me too.

In theory, I’m totally against “objectifying women,” but Jennifer Lawrence still makes my ears buzz. Then too, my wife kind of likes me that way.

As for renouncing my putative “white innocence,” a modest demurral:

Give it a rest professor, I didn’t make this world any more than you.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 30, 2015

December 30, 2015 Posted by | Americans, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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